My ponderings have been all over the place this week–ranging from the melancholy of winter’s approach to the glory of Jesus coming again. From how-to-keep-your-brain-sharp to the beguiling simplicity of Mormon beliefs online. I’ve squeezed in more audio time this week than usual, listening to everything from the quiet morning hum of the fridge to the call of a pileated woodpecker, from an exposition on the glories of having Jesus as our High Priest, to an appealingly reasoned case for re-writing God’s ordering of roles in His church to fit our times.
But as I read, listen and interact a common theme keeps pushing to the top–LISTEN!
“…Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said…you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice…” Luke 10:39,42
“Your beauty… should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” I Pet.3:3
It is only when we have paused in airing our own thoughts and opinions that we can hear another’s. And it is only in knowing God’s thoughts that we can measure the validity of our own or anybody else’s thoughts. Listening well is essential.
But hearing and listening are two quite different things. I saw this today in reading the angel Gabriel’s message to Zechariah and Mary respectively(Lk.1). To both he said: “Now listen!” But for Zechariah there was a scolding: ‘You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.’ Mary’s response was quite different, she had questions about the details (How does a virgin have a baby anyway?) but she was fully assured by Gabriel’s explanation that by His Spirit God can do the impossible, and she gladly submitted to God’s Words and purpose for her life.
“I am the Lord’s slave, may it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk.1:38)
This is the kind of listening God is looking for–listening with humble God-confidence, willing to be or do as He chooses.
Earlier this week I was studying Hebrews 5. These hearers were faulted with being ‘dull of hearing’ and lacking the maturity of those ‘whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil’. Consequently, a great deal of what the writer wanted to say was too difficult for them to understand. They had become lazy listeners, needing to be spurred on to imitate those who ‘through faith and perseverance inherit the promises’. There’s definitely an active aspect to good listening…
The writer to the Hebrews had already urged them not to harden their hearts if and when they wished to hear God’s voice. Hard hearts, dull ears, listless faith–these seem to go together and to be a primary impediment to experiencing the life and rest that God intends for His people.
For this good news–that God has prepared this rest–has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. Heb 4:2 NLT
A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance…the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline. Prov.1:7 HCSB
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. Is. 55:2-3 NLT
If you’ve ever tried in vain to give advice to someone you care about only to have your hard-earned wisdom ignored or passed off as irrelevant, or worse yet–untrustworthy, you have felt the effects of a hard heart. Is there anything more frustrating? Even when spoken in love, truth has to be met with a soft heart if it’s to take root and be life-changing. Knowing my own human frustration with this gives me a greater sense of God’s incredible patience with me when I am less than teachable and prone to doubt. Being of infinite love and faithfulness He just keeps on…
In the face of our striving He calls:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mt. 11:28-29 NLT
Into the stupor of our self-sufficiency He urges:
I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Rev 3:19,22 NLT
And all down through time He bears patiently the arrogance and independence of His creatures who reject His designs and insist on their own ways, as He waits and woos and warns, unwilling that any should perish…But not forever.
I’ve committed lately to getting a better personal understanding of Revelation so I’ve been reading and re-reading these chapters as though they were a book intended to be read and understood, written by a God who knows exactly what I need to know…
Really this book that marks the unveiling of God’s righteous wrath is a mercy. God could unleash His wrath with no ‘heads-up’; He has every right. But instead He reveals what’s coming and declares the one blessed who hears and ‘keeps’ His words. For the one who believes God to be the rightful King of all the earth this book is full of hope and encouragement–your redemption draws nigh; hang on, no matter what. It will be worth it in the end (which is really only the beginning!) For the unbeliever who reads with an ear to hear, there is terror which if combined with faith may yet result in salvation. But for the one who reads but doesn’t care to listen, the skeptic, this ‘hear ye, hear ye’ of what is coming on the earth will only prove God’s justice in judgment.
The theme of listening is threaded all through the book of Revelation. Not only does the book begin with a blessing to those who hear and keep its message, but the message itself is full of sound effects! Trumpet calls and thunder, the sound of roaring water, multitudes singing in worship, rebels crying out in terror, blasphemies and Hallelujahs… All this besides the multiple admonitions to ‘hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. And as the book concludes this invitation is extended all who hear: “Both the Spirit and the bride say “Come!”…and the one who is thirsty should come…take the living water as a gift.”(Rev.22:17)
As we were out walking this week, a friend mentioned a book she was reading. She was having trouble telling me what exactly it was about, so I asked ‘What was your take-away’? And now I’m asking myself that right here as I try to wrap up these reflections on the art of listening.
It occurs to me that God is our role model. He listens well. And as the Son He has modeled well the voice that is heard.
Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard [to hear with assent] because of his reverence Heb.5:7 ESV
What this passage goes on to say is that Jesus has become “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey [listen obediently] him.” (Heb.5:9 ESV)
When I looked up the different forms of the word ‘to hear’ in these verses I found this sweet tidbit. The word translated here as obey literally means ‘to hear under’ (as a subordinate). It is the attentive listening used of a doorkeeper who watches at the door, waiting for a knock in order to come and listen to see who it is.
May we be that kind of listener, discerning who knocks, welcoming truth with soft hearts, ready to believe and to act at Jesus’ bidding.
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.–Jesus (Rev.3:20 NLT)
Speak Lord, your servant is listening.